Volleyball concludes season with loss to UH
With an NCAA tournament bid on the line, the volleyball team faced its most important match of the season as it went across town to play its archrival, the University of Houston (19-11, 12-8 C-USA). To start conference play earlier this season, the Cougars came into Tudor Fieldhouse and embarrassed the Owls with a 3-0 sweep. The Owls vowed to play harder and get their revenge, but ended up falling short 3-2, n a riveting five-set match.
Last Wednesday, the Owls traveled to Houston hoping to leave with a win and increase their chances of receiving an elusive NCAA tournament berth. The Owls knew they needed to start off strong so they could take the crowd out of the game, but it was the Cougars who got off to a fast start. Houston took the early lead in the first set and never looked back as it edged out Rice for a 25-20 set win. Rice did not want to face a daunting 0-2 hole, but the Cougars kept piling on the kills as they took the second set as well, 25-21.
The Owls went into the locker room staring at another sweep by the hands of their rivals. Rice would not back down, though, and came out swinging in the third set, fighting back with a 25-21 win. With the new momentum, the Owls kept up the intensity as they took down the Cougars again to win the fourth set 25-20, setting up a winner-takes-all fifth set. In the most intense set of the match, there were 11 ties and five lead changes, but the Owls found themselves on the wrong side of the result as the Cougars squeaked out a 16-14 win to take the match 3-2.
Sophomore outside hitter Mariah Riddlesprigger had one of her best games of the season as she recorded a team-high 20 kills. Sophomore setter Megan Murphy tallied 61 assists to lead the team, while Riddlesprigger also had 14 digs of her own. In the final game of her career, senior defensive specialist Megan White recorded five assists and 18 digs to lead the team while senior outside hitter Jordan Meredith had four kills and three digs.
Realizing it was her last game, White mentioned that it had not really hit her yet, but she was still very sad. White said that she will not only take away the memorable moments she had on the court, but also the lifelong friends she has made and the lessons she has learned.
"I am just extremely thankful for the four years I have been with this program. I have learned so much," White said. "Not just about volleyball. Yes, there have been so many amazing experiences on the court, but what is so great is that I will carry so many other experiences with me that will impact the rest of my life."
For the season, the Owls finished with an 18-13 record and a 13-7 conference record that tied the University of Alabama at Birmingham (23-9, 13-7 C-USA) for second place. The Owls missed out on the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row, which was tough for Head Coach Genny Volpe because she knew that the team was very close to earning an at-large bid.
"I knew that if we had gotten one top-50 RPI win, we might have made the tournament," Volpe said. "If we had beaten the University of Cincinnati earlier in the season at Hawai'i, we might still be playing."
Even though the Owls missed out on the tournament, Volpe judged that it was a very successful year for the young ladies, as they exceeded many expectations. She was very impressed with the team's competitive spirit.
"As their coach, I liked the fact that we were extremely competitive and that we had that team spirit," Volpe said. "The team hated to lose."
White mentioned that she has seen a lot of improvement since the team started playing matches in August. She felt toward the end of the season, the team found its stride.
"I am extremely proud of this team and its accomplishments, but what I am most impressed with was the improvement that we saw throughout the season," White said. "This is a completely different team now than what we saw in August."
With the season behind them and most of the starters returning, Volpe could not hide her excitement about the upcoming season. She said she thinks the returning leaders and the strong recruiting class might help lead the Owls to the C-USA crown.
"I am extremely excited to coach the team in the spring and get ready for next fall," Volpe said. "We should contend for a conference title next year. We are going to be that good."
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In the season finale, Rice football defeated the University of Texas, El Paso 30-16, outscoring the Miners 16-0 in the second half en route to their third consecutive victory on Saturday. The victory in Rice’s season finale improved the Owls’ final record to 3-9, a one-win increase over last year’s total and tied for Rice’s best finish since 2016.
As the semester wraps up, it’s a good time to take stock of how Rice Athletics is doing as a whole. At this moment, we believe that there is good reason to be happy and optimistic with how the Owls are performing now and will perform in the future. On a sport by sport basis, Rice sports teams are ending the decade at a peak.
Volleyball will compete in the NCAA tournament after receiving an at-large bid to play against the University of Oklahoma in the first round during Sunday night’s Selection Show. Transportation will not be provided for Rice students to the match against OU, but the possibility exists a student bus will travel to College Station on Friday if the Owls win their first round match, according to Rice director of marketing David Pillen.